SHORE THING

A quick flight away to Mexico awaits paradise at Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso in Cancun, as our bon viveur Amber Elliott learns on a long weekend jaunt.

Photography courtesy of Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso

SWEPT AWAY TO MEXICO

There are all-inclusive resorts and there are all-inclusive resorts. Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso is unabashedly the latter. The former connotes images of all-you-can-eat buffets, several blue lagoons-meet-playground-style pools, cabanas on the beach, and a daunting itinerary of hourly activities, performances and programming. Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso does offer all of the aforementioned activities; this Mexican auberge’s distinction, however, lies within its subtle charm.

Upon arrival at the Riviera Maya compound’s pearly gates, yes, complimentary transport from the Cancun International Airport is available, travelers whiz past Grupo Iberstar’s additional four on-property hotels, each representing a unique accommodation level. Iberostar Paraiso Maya, Paraiso Lindo, Paraiso Beach, and Paraiso Del Mar all cater toward the luxury-loving clientele.

The Grand Hotel Paraiso sits in a class, perched on a hill of its own. At first glance, the resort is all at once intimidating and magnetizing. There’s both a warm reception from the bellhops who confidently whisk away luggage and a hushed greeting from check-in staff who receive new guests at the lobby bar, a rather refreshing departure from whipping out one’s credit card in line airport-style, thank you. Admittedly, the Le Cirque-esque watering hole isn’t particularly lavish nor modern, but what the parlor lacks in flash, the receding atrium hall compensates for in spades.

Just beyond the foyer’s stately columns lies a domed garden oasis with decidedly transformative powers, especially after a welcome cocktail or two. Its gilded ceiling, majestically painted ala Sistine Chapel, enchants so convincingly, one partially expects a mythical creature or, at the very least, an opera singer, to appear from thin air. On second thought, make that dense, humid air.

Thankfully, in my case, a porter broke the neo-Renaissance spell for the first true adventure: locating my suite. There are two methods of travel across Grand Hotel Paraiso’s expansive TK acres: golf cart or on foot. My advice? Opt for the wheels.

Past serene, interior facing balconies, the spa’s palatial two-story dwelling complete with a tiled saltwater pool, several glass-enclosed restaurants, and the colossal, ocean-facing pool of Poseidon’s dreams – more on those later – are dueling beachfront towers. Each one boasts three floors of plush, butler-attended rooms with spectacular views.

HOW ACCOMMODATING

Here, accommodations feel more like the home of a dear friend or relative’s decadent, yet lived-in, pied-a-terre. The staff, décor, and personal touches are warm and inviting, a difficult quality to mimic when servicing some 310 chambers including ten private villas. And yet, Grand Hotel Paraiso delivers with aplomb.

According to one guest who’s visited the resort some 30 times in his 30 years, the property’s allure is the ability to reinvent itself without sacrificing hospitality. The little details, handwritten notes from housekeeping staff, chilled champagne and daily fresh fruit, seamlessly restocked minibars, and nightly chocolates, read home away from home, only chicer.

Take the resort’s mammoth-sized main pool, for example. All of the conventional trappings are there: swim-up pool bar, partially submerged lounge chairs, cabana vignettes of every size and configuration. But the barkeep are dressed to the nine’s, books and magazines are available via a poolside library, the music is subdued and remarkably tasteful, and fellow guests gussy up a tad swankier than one would expect.

The same rings true of the Grand Hotel Paraiso’s seven dining options. Each of the property’s sweeping Greco-meets-baroque restaurants, Venecia, Toni’s, L’Atelier, Haiku, and Bella Vista, serve Italian, surf & turf, French gourmet, Japanese, and steak a la carte, respectively. Attire for each is resort chic; no collarless shirts or maillots, however posh, allowed. In the mood for Mexican? (When in Rome…) Try Las Brisas for “show cooking” and sprawling buffet options amidst white tablecloth service overlooking the clubhouse’s mod al fresco bottle-service setup in the sand. A glass of Rose‘, anyone?

TRY ADVENTURE OR REFRESH

For the adventurous types, Cancun Adventures’ luxury sailing and snorkeling tour comes highly recommended. The concierge can happily arrange a day out in the Caribbean for diving, reef exploring, or sun bathing on a catamarans pristine deck. Open bar and a seasonal bento boxed lunch are included, of course.

If rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation are itinerary must-haves, Grand Hotel Paraiso’s indulgent Spa Sensations does not disappoint. The couples-oriented haven features both Turkish and Roman baths, full salon services, and an impressive menu of pampering options. I elected for a caviar massage though rumor has it that the chocolate scrub is equally divine.

Relishing one’s suite is also unexpectedly gratifying. From the soaking tub, rain-head showers, and well-appointed bath products to the cocoon-style porch swings that dot each terrace, staying can be a splendid experience, too.

Although Iberostar’s Grand Hotel Paraiso may have not reinvented the all-inclusive wheel, it’s certainly perfected the art form of a chic Mexico stay. Leave the kids at home, pack and extra Pucci caftan or two, and prepare to fall in love with Riviera Maya’s most unexpectedly charismatic destination.

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